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What is a polyp?

A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue that can occur in various parts of the body. It can be either benign or cancerous. The term "polyp" is often used to refer to growths that occur in the lining of the colon, rectum, or other parts of the digestive tract.

Several different types of polyps can occur in the body, including:

  • Adenomatous polyps are the most common type of colon polyp and are considered pre-cancerous.
  • Hyperplastic polyps are usually small and rarely become cancerous.
  • Inflammatory polyps can occur in the colon or stomach and are typically associated with inflammation or infection.
  • Juvenile polyps are rare polyps that can occur in the colon or rectum, usually in children.
  • Peutz-Jeghers polyps are rare polyps that can occur in the small intestine and are associated with an increased risk of developing certain cancers.
  • Villous adenomas are large, flat polyps that are more likely to become cancerous than other types of polyps.
  • Serrated polyps are a type of polyp that can occur in the colon and increase the risk of developing colon cancer.

What are the risk factors for polyps?

The exact cause of polyps is not well understood, but certain factors can increase the risk of developing them. Some of the risk factors for polyps include:

  • Age: Polyps are more common in people over the age of 50.
  • Family history: Having a family history of polyps or colorectal cancer can increase the risk of developing polyps.
  • Personal history: Individuals who have previously had polyps or colorectal cancer are at increased risk of developing new polyps.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: Chronic inflammation of the colon, such as in ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, can increase the risk of developing polyps.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle habits: A diet high in red meat, alcohol consumption, smoking, and lack of physical activity can increase the risk of developing polyps.
  • Hereditary conditions: Certain hereditary conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome, can increase the risk of developing polyps and colorectal cancer.

What causes colon polyps?

  • Abnormal changes in genes: Certain genes are involved in regulating cell growth and division in the colon. Changes in these genes can lead to abnormal growths, such as polyps.
  • Inflammation: Chronic inflammation of the colon, such as in inflammatory bowel disease, can increase the risk of developing polyps.

What causes nasal polyps?

  • Chronic inflammation: Nasal polyps are often associated with chronic inflammation of the nasal mucosa. Allergies, infections, or irritants can cause this inflammation.
  • Allergies: Allergies to environmental triggers such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander can cause chronic inflammation and increase the risk of developing nasal polyps.
  • Asthma: Nasal polyps are more common in individuals with asthma, suggesting a link between the two conditions.
  • Genetic factors: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to developing nasal polyps.
  • Aspirin sensitivity: A small percentage of people with nasal polyps are sensitive to aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can worsen symptoms.

What are the symptoms of polyps?

The symptoms of polyps can vary depending on the location and size of the polyp, as well as whether or not it is causing a blockage or irritation. Some of the common symptoms of polyps include:

  • No symptoms: Many polyps do not cause any symptoms and are found incidentally during routine screenings.
  • Rectal bleeding: Polyps in the colon or rectum can sometimes cause bleeding, which may appear as blood in the stool or on the toilet paper.
  • Changes in bowel habits: Large colon polyps can cause changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea, or a feeling of incomplete evacuation.
  • Abdominal pain: Polyps in the colon or rectum can sometimes cause abdominal pain or cramping.
  • Nasal congestion: Nasal polyps can cause a blocked or stuffy nose, reduced sense of smell, or postnasal drip.
  • Runny nose: Nasal polyps can also cause a persistent runny nose.
  • Headache: Large nasal polyps can cause headaches or facial pain.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with a primary care provider today.

How are polyps diagnosed?

A provider usually diagnoses polyps through imaging tests or direct visualization of the affected area. The specific diagnostic procedures used depend on the location of the suspected polyps. 

  • Colonoscopy is the most common procedure used to detect colon polyps. During this procedure, a flexible tube with a camera on the end is inserted through the rectum and guided through the colon to look for polyps or other abnormalities.
  • CT colonography, also known as virtual colonoscopy, uses a CT scanner to create detailed images of the colon to detect polyps.
  • Nasal endoscopy involves a small, flexible tube with a camera on the end to be inserted into the nostril to visualize the inside of the nasal cavity and detect nasal polyps.
  • A sinus CT scan provides detailed images of the sinuses to detect nasal polyps.
  • A barium enema involves inserting a liquid called barium into the rectum and taking X-rays to detect colon polyps.

What does a polyp look like?

The appearance of a polyp can vary depending on its location in the body and its size.

Colon polyps are usually small, mushroom-shaped growths that protrude from the inner lining of the colon. They may be flat or slightly raised and can range in size from a few millimeters to several centimeters. They can be difficult to see with the naked eye, so a colonoscopy or other imaging test is necessary to detect them.

Nasal polyps, on the other hand, are typically soft, painless, and have a teardrop or grape-like shape. They are usually gray or yellowish and can range in size from a few millimeters to several centimeters. Nasal polyps can be seen during a nasal endoscopy, which involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end into the nostril to visualize the inside of the nasal cavity.

It's important to note that not all polyps can be seen with the naked eye, and some may require imaging tests or biopsies to detect.

How do you treat polyps?

The treatment of polyps depends on several factors, such as the location, size, and type of polyp. Some common treatments for polyps include:

  • A polypectomy is a minimally invasive procedure in which the doctor removes the polyp using a small wire loop that cuts it off at its base. Your gastroenterologist will perform a polypectomy during your colonoscopy.
  • An endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR) is a procedure similar to polypectomy, but it is used for larger polyps. EMR involves injecting a solution under the polyp to raise it from the lining of the colon or rectum and then using a snare to remove it.
  • In rare cases, a person may require surgery to remove polyps that are too large to be removed using endoscopic techniques or have become cancerous.
  • Some cases may need medications to shrink certain types of polyps, such as nasal polyps. These medications may include nasal corticosteroids or leukotriene modifiers.


Polyps can sometimes recur after treatment, so regular follow-up with a gastroenterologist is necessary to monitor for any new or recurring polyps. 

Our experienced, board-certified gastroenterologists serve patients throughout the Greater Houston area. No matter where you live or which location you choose, you can trust that we will provide the same patient-centered standards of quality care to everyone.

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